Notes of Interest

● From the ashes of a 36th-place finish in the second NASCAR Cup Series race of the year at Atlanta Motor Speedway that nullified a strong ninth-place drive from the season-opening Daytona 500, Noah Gragson rose like a Phoenix last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 10 Ford Mustang Dark Horse for Stewart-Haas Racing scratched and clawed his way from 30th on the grid to finish an impressive sixth at the end of the 267-lap race. It was his first step out of the points hole that left him last in the championship standings after Atlanta. Gragson’s Las Vegas exploits allowed him to climb eight spots in points to 34th heading into this weekend’s Shriners Children’s 500k at Phoenix Raceway.

● The Shriners Children’s 500k will serve as Gragson’s second career NASCAR Cup Series start at Phoenix. He finished 29th in his first Cup Series race at the desert mile last March during his rookie campaign with Legacy Motor Club.

● The bulk of Gragson’s experience at Phoenix has come in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the stepping-stone division to the elite NASCAR Cup Series. From 2019 through 2022, Gragson made eight career Xfinity Series starts at Phoenix and had only one finish outside the top-12. His five top-10s were punctuated by three top-two finishes, a mark highlighted by Gragson’s win in March 2022. It was a race he thoroughly dominated as Gragson started second and then led seven times for a race-high 114 laps, including the final 15 to beat runner-up Brandon Jones by 2.555 seconds.

● In Gragson’s final Xfinity Series race at Phoenix in November 2022, he was competing for the series title. Gragson was in the Championship 4 with Ty Gibbs, Justin Allgaier and Josh Berry. Gragson qualified fourth and finished second, but in the winner-take-all format, polesitter Ty Gibbs finished the race exactly where he started to take the championship by five points over Gragson. Today, Gibbs, Gragson and Berry are all in the NASCAR Cup Series, with Berry in his rookie season as a teammate to Gragson at Stewart-Haas.

● Gragson has also made three NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series starts at Phoenix with his best finish coming in his most recent Truck race at the track – second in November 2018. Gragson finished 16th in his first Truck Series race at Phoenix in November 2016, but when he returned for his last two Truck Series starts in 2017 and 2018, Gragson was a contender. He qualified second in 2017 and led four times for 55 laps before getting caught up in a late-race accident that left him 15th. A year later, Gragson qualified on the pole and led twice for 43 laps before finishing .456 of a second behind race-winner Brett Moffitt.

● Gragson’s first Phoenix start came back in November 2015 when he competed in the NASCAR K&N Series West, known today as the ARCA Menards Series West. It was a disappointing outing as Gragson qualified 20th and finished 14th, and in a season where he battled for the championship with Chris Eggleston, Ryan Partridge and Gracin Raz, the result left Gragson seven points shy of the title. However, Gragson handily secured the rookie-of-the-year crown.

● Joining Gragson at Phoenix is SERVPRO, a leader in property cleanup, restoration and construction. For more than 50 years, SERVPRO has been a trusted leader in fire and water cleanup and restoration services, construction, mold mitigation, biohazard, and pathogen remediation. SERVPRO’s professional services network of more than 2,200 individually owned and operated franchises spans the United States and Canada, responding to property damage emergencies large and small – from million-square-foot commercial facilities to individual homes. When disaster strikes, homeowners, business owners and major insurance companies rely on SERVPRO to help make it “Like it never even happened.”

Noah Gragson, Driver of the No. 10 SERVPRO Ford Mustang Dark Horse

You only have one NASCAR Cup Series start at Phoenix, but you still have plenty of experience there with eight Xfinity Series starts, three Truck Series starts and one K&N West start. Talk about your career progression at Phoenix – how you’ve learned and developed overall, and what you’ve learned by making laps at that track.

“I first started going there in 2015 for the K&N West championship race. Didn’t run great there, thought I hated the place, and then ran pretty good in the Trucks, and didn’t run too good there in Xfinity, but started running really good and ended up winning a race there in Xfinity and got a lot of second-place finishes, third-place finishes there. The Cup Series race was really bad there last year. Looking forward to how the No. 10 SERVPRO Ford Mustang drives there at Phoenix. It’s a fun track, it’s a challenging track, and it always seems like it’s different, the way the sticky stuff is sprayed down in the corners. But it always puts on a good show for the fans.”

Eventually winning in your hometown of Las Vegas is probably at the top of your priority list, but winning at Phoenix has got to be a close second, as it’s somewhat close to your roots. You did exactly that in March 2022 when you won the Xfinity Series race at Phoenix. What was that sense of accomplishment like?

“Phoenix is super important and special because it’s the host of the championship race. You just know that you’re going to have more confidence if you can be in that final four to go have a shot at a championship. We didn’t get it done in the championship race there in 2020, but it is a special track. There are a lot of friends and family that come down from Vegas. It’s a short drive, only about four hours. It’s a lot of fun to be able to just go out there and have the support. You get a lot of the same Vegas crowd of fans that come to Phoenix. It’s a good time and the weather’s always good there, too.”

You’ve competed in four different series at Phoenix. Did you have to adjust your driving style to each kind of vehicle you drove around that track, or were there similarities with each that made the learning curve at Phoenix a little less steep?

“I feel like they’re all different until you dial in the setup to what suits you. Once you can get the setup dialed in and figure out what you want, then you can just drive it the same way.”

How different was the Cup Series car at Phoenix compared to what you’ve raced there in the past?

“It was a little bit different. It’s pretty similar, but the biggest difference is the shifting every lap, and it’s really tough to pass.”

Restarts at Phoenix can be a little crazy. How crazy are they, and when is it smart to cut through the dogleg and when is it a riskier proposition?

“I’m not really a fan of cutting the dogleg. I like staying up and getting my speed up to angle into turn one. You feel like you usually cut through the dogleg, but your entry into turn one that way – you’re so low on the racetrack that you never get out to the outside wall to arc the car. I’ve never really liked going down there, especially in the Cup cars – it seems super sketchy to cross down there. But at the same time, it’s one of those things that, situationally, you might need to go down there sometimes, but I’ve always focused on the exit of turn two on restarts there.”

You cut through the dogleg and you’re carrying a bunch of speed – what do you need to do to get slowed down enough to make that first corner, which just got a whole lot tighter because you cut the corner – and how do you merge into traffic with those who stayed on the track and arced their way into turn one?

“A lot of it is based on hope. You hope they don’t slide up in front of you, or you hope they have you cleared and they keep on sliding up and up and up and you’re already turning on the gas. Each guy does it differently, which is what makes it pretty crazy. You see in Trucks, Xfinity and Cup, they’re always four-, five-, six-wide. I think in the Truck race last year they were eight-wide, which might be the record in NASCAR for side-by-sides. Overall, it’s pretty chaotic. It’s pretty wild.”

What did you not like about cutting through the dogleg?

“Just that I’ve always felt like I was never in control. I’d end up in the center of the corner or I’d have to lift way too long and too much to get the thing to stick on the bottom after entering so low and straight. I just never felt like I was in position to grab the bull by the horns. I always felt like I was putting myself in a bad position. I can control it more if I just arc the corner.”

We talked about how Las Vegas is a litmus test in terms of where teams stack up with one another. Is that the case for Phoenix as well, at least in terms of how your short-track package stacks up, and is there an element of urgency because Richmond and Martinsville are only two and three weeks away, respectively?

“I think all of them are pretty important. When you start going there the second time, it’s important to get solid runs. Just learning the rules package and where the car has its strengths and weaknesses, different aero position, setup-wise is this going to work, downforce and stuff? I don’t know. That’s why it’s important to get notes and regroup afterward and come up with the best solution possible.”